This year saw the watch community reunite for its biggest event since Covid-19. There was a noticeably frenetic energy in the Geneva convention center – most likely a mix of eager anticipation to see new novelties, reunions between long lost peers, the coffee and champagne that was provided on tap, and lack of sleep that added a pervasive coating of hysteria to the function.
The “Palexpo” (the center where Watches and Wonders is held) is a huge infrastructure that undergoes a luxury renovation to host its watch cohorts for the week. No detail is spared from the plush carpet to the servers in uniform and European-style three-course lunches served to anybody who is granted access in the building. Necessary amenities considering the ground one has to cover when participating in this event.
After coasting from booth to booth, each of which emits a totally different vibe – traditional luxury at Rolex, 24-hour nightclub at Roger Dubuis, environmentally conscious juice bar/lounge at IWC – I decided to divide the novelties into categories of watches. That way I could treat the Palexpo like an interactive marketplace, ready to share my findings like I would an exceptionally successful eBay haul.
Vintage Nostalgia Continues to Reign Supreme
Vacheron Constantin 222
Let’s start with the fair’s crowning glory: Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques 222 in yellow gold. Since its original release in 1977, the 222 has been the unicorn of the integrated bracelet watch family. Designed by Jorg Hysek (not by Gerald Genta, a common misconception), only 150 examples of the original were produced in yellow gold, naturally making the watch a hot commodity at auction. As a yellow gold watch fanatic (shockingly, I’m a minority amongst the watch crowd), this is my personal apex of vintage reissue.
Cartier Privé Tank Chinoise
The Cartier Tank Chinoise is the lesser known model of the Tank family (more common are the Tank Louis Cartier, Must, Francaise, Asymetrique, and Cintrée). With exception to the 2004 Cartier Paris Collection Privée (CPCP) release, this is the first Chinoise reimagined since its original launch 100 years ago. A few design tweaks have been made, most noticeably the shape of the case and dial have been elongated into a more traditional Tank rectangle and the hands are no longer Breguet but traditional Cartier blue swords. The yellow gold skeleton version is perhaps for the bolder sartorialist, decorated with lacquer on both the case and on the bridges; it is a more literal interpretation of the Chinese architectural influence.
Cartier Crash Tigrée
Honorable mention goes to the Cartier Crash Tigrée. The Crash has become something of a pop culture icon, with the likes of Kanye and Tyler the Creator sporting the extremely hard to come by model. This version is even more of a rare Pokemon; part of the Métiers D’art collection, only 50 total will be made.
Gucci 25H Skeleton Tourbillon
The Gucci wonderland was a short shuttle ride away from the main sight, a welcome respite from the madness; the grounds were so impressive it felt like I'd been transported to a small slice of the Villa Borghese. New novelties and past models were displayed museum-style in glass cases throughout the grand drawing rooms, to be handled by white-gloved staff members only. Starting with the Gucci 25H Skeleton Tourbillon which comes in both yellow gold and platinum, I was impressed by Gucci’s offering of the ‘70s-style integrated metal bracelet trend, a trend that doesn’t seem to be dying down any time soon. The house is celebrating 50 years of watchmaking, which is nothing in the grand scheme of traditional Swiss houses, but Gucci have very much stepped up their game in the watch space, a smart move as the watch industry seems to be on a constantly upward trajectory.
A short walk through the gardens took me to The Gucci Greenhouse which contains their archival exhibition: five decades worth of Gucci watch design. Treasures included an early ‘70s Macassar wood with an 18kt gold watch, a 1997 Gucci steel with diamonds “G” watch, and a pair of cufflinks with an integrated clock from the 1950s. Always fun to see some real life vintage in and amongst a sea of nostalgia.
The Hermes Kelly Watch
The Kelly watch is where both my obsessions with jewelry and watches intersect and reach ultimate hybrid status. The watch was originally designed in 1975, its padlock shape derived from the iconic handbag designed by Robert Dumas in the 1930s. It usually comes on a leather bracelet, creating more of a literal design parallel with the handbag itself, so the introduction of matching metal bracelets might secure the deal for me. You can also swap out the bracelet and turn the watch into a necklace with a black leather or alligator clochette on leather cord; this iteration is giving full Hermes handbag addict, Birkin and Twilly in tow.
Chronograph Sizes Prove It’s Still a Man’s World
Montblanc 1858 Minerva Monopusher Chronograph Red Arrow LE88
I’m on a mission to find a sporty chronograph smaller than the usual XL 44mm variety. The chronograph market is still pretty much a man’s game (unless you’re part of the “women who kill it with oversized watches” club). Nonetheless, everyone can still appreciate the new releases that were on offer. Starting with Montblanc's 1858 Minerva Monopusher Chronograph Red Arrow LE88. Most people associate the name Montblanc with luxury fountain pens from the ‘90s, but the brand has a solid standing within the luxury watch space, especially given their tie to Minerva, a manufacturer (bought by Richemont in 2006) steeped in heritage, most commonly associated with its production of chronographs and stopwatches. This vintage-inspired Montblanc references early aviation chronographs produced by Minerva in the ‘20s and ‘30s. The bold Arabic numerals, used by early-day pilots for legibility gives a retro feel whilst other key elements incorporated from the past include a fluted bezel – for easy use with pilots’ gloves – and the Maison’s signature red arrow that allowed a quick and easy reading of elapsed time. The watch has been produced in a limited edition of 88.
TAG Heuer Carrera Plasma
TAG Heuer have turned one of the most iconic racing chronographs into a gem set pièce unique (unique for now as the plan is to make up to 12). Here we see the Carrera legacy push a political agenda with the use of lab grown diamonds; a statement considering TAG Heuer comes under the LVMH Umbrella (its sisters include Chaumet, Tiffany and Bulgari). Lab growns are known to be unpopular amongst jewelry purists but the design of this watch called for a material that allowed total creativity in the way that the stones were set whilst avoiding wastage. It would have been impossible to create the shapes set in the case – the full diamond crown and the polycrystalline diamond dial – with natural stones. Having been one of the lucky few to touch this watch I am hoping this marks the beginning of a new interesting and possibly disruptive era for TAG Heuer. Here’s hoping they make another one with a diamond bracelet to match.
Zenith Chronomaster Sport
Zenith was a trailblazer in the development of automatic chronographs, producing the El Primero movement in 1969. The El Primero sets the gold standard for integrated chronograph movements; the best example of this being that a modified El Primero caliber was built into the first self winding Rolex Daytonas up until the early ‘00s. Last year the Chronomaster sport won the 2021 GPHG (Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève) prize for best Chronograph, basically the Oscars of the watch world. The award winning model is back this year with a few superficial tweaks. Two of the new references are crafted in full rose gold or two-tone rose with steel, (and given my aversion to rose gold) I am going straight for the boutique edition in steel with tri-colour ceramic bezel and silver sunray-patterned dial. Priced at $12,800, you are getting a good deal for your money and securing one won’t be a fraction of the struggle endured when on the hunt for the white whale Daytona.
Futurism in a Heritage-Obsessed Marketplace
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra
The Octo Finissimo, launched 10 years ago, has become something of an integrated metal bracelet icon. Perhaps not quite as universal as the Nautilus or Royal Oak, its fan club goes pretty deep within the watch community. The Octo Finissimo is very much part of the Gerald Genta legacy, although not strictly designed by Genta himself. It’s an evolution of his Octo Bi-Retro, a design which became Bulgari’s once they bought the rights to Genta’s eponymous line in 2000. The Ultra, launched last month as a limited series of 10, certainly delivers a shock factor: It’s 1.8mm thin, making it the world’s thinnest mechanical watch. I’m already a big Octo Finissimo fan – I love the graphic lines of the stepped case and bezel, and the way its flatness on the wrist plays with depth perception. The Octo Finissimo feels like the younger and cooler iteration to the stainless steel Holy Trinity (contenders are debatable but most would agree on the Nautilus, the Royal Oak, and the Daytona as the global Trifecta). The Ultra goes above and beyond in terms of sheer engineering -- it’s almost an optical illusion. Face on, you are looking at a three-dimensional watch with complex mechanical composition, side on one sees a very skinny profile, a piece of metal that hardly resembles a watch.
M.A.D. Editions M.A.D.1 RED
MB&F (Max Büsser and Friends) are at the forefront of independent watch design, producing mechanically complex watches with seriously avant-garde case shapes that draw inspiration from old clocks, jellyfish, starships, and just about anything else that leaves a lasting impression on Büsser. The key brand philosophy is to uphold the very high standards of traditional Swiss watchmaking while repackaging the contents to create an exterior that pushes a more contemporary aesthetic. MB&F watches, like most independent brands who are creating such high-caliber product, comes with quite a hefty price tag. But fear no more, the ever democratic Max Büsser has created sister brand M.A.D. Editions. The M.A.D1 was originally made for friends and existing clients only, and despite the challenge in developing something creative at a much lower price point, the watch was a roaring success. Cue the second iteration in Cherry Red, now open to the public (or to those who were fast enough to put their name down), it was released just last week in time for Watches and Wonders and broke the (watch nerd) internet.
Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon Automatic Purple Sapphire
Hublot stands out as the brand that does what it wants. Less Madison Avenue and more Ocean Drive, the spirit is always club before boardroom. After last year’s Orange Big Bang Tourbillon, they have delivered another popsicle flavor inspired polished sapphire watch measuring a classic Hublot 44mm. Not for the faint of heart, this grape jelly colored skeletonised Big Bang, complete with self-winding tourbillon, propels a forward-thinking aesthetic. Perhaps it’s the least subtle of all the watches in this roundup, but that’s the spirit of Hublot; the watch is called “Big Bang” after all.